Why Favors Don’t Pay and Clients Can’t Be “Friends”

“Never work for free!”

I say it a lot. I say it in classes, in published articles, on my blogs (here and at NTRC), in my book, and to students and new graduates who call or email me for advice. It’s a statement others have criticized, often by professionals who also criticize the statement: “Clients aren’t your friends.”

The reasons both pieces of advice are valid and worth heeding seem obvious to me, but since this bad information keeps circulating, we’ll break this down together.

But first, let’s discuss my credentials, so those of you who are new here can understand that I’m not just some crackpot cat lady with a website and a penchant for crushing dreams. My name is Tina Alberino, and I joined this industry at the age of fifteen years old. I’ve spent the bulk of my career in management positions and now, I work in management consulting and education.

I’m the person your clients complain to about your ‘special friendship.’

…we’ll get into that more later. First, here are the reasons why you should NOT become too familiar with your clients.

1.) It’s inappropriate.

Know your role. You’re a service provider. Your job entails performing services on clients to their specifications for a fee. That job description (and that fee) does not include chattering your head off.

2.) You aren’t getting paid for talking.

Remember when I said “never work for free?” If you aren’t getting paid to talk, don’t. If clients aren’t willing to pay extra for conversation with you, odds are pretty good that it’s not something they value.

3.) Clients don’t care about you.

I’m not sure who keeps telling new professionals this, but when you come to work, you’re there to work. It isn’t “The [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] Show.” The salon floor isn’t a stage upon which you can have an eight hour monologue every day. Clients are not your audience. They’re in the salon to get a service. They likely don’t care about your troubles, illnesses, weight issues, obnoxious children, or financial struggles.

Do you hear me?

They. Don’t. Care.

For some reason, a lot of professionals elevate their clients and put them on this pedestal. They do everything they can to force an artificial relationship, desperately hoping that the relationship will equate to loyalty, but at the end of the day–whether it’s been five months or five years–to the majority of your clients, you’re just their hairdresser/nail tech/massage therapist/esthetician. You’re no different than any of the other dozens of service professionals whose talents they utilize.

4.) They’ll burn you.

Scoff and sputter and deny all you want, but one day, those “special clients” will turn on you.

There are a variety of ways this can happen:

  • You’ll take maternity leave, vacation, or time off for a serious illness.
  • You’ll refuse to come in early, stay late, give them deep discounts, or do their services outside of the salon “on the cheap.”
  • You’ll charge them a cancellation fee.
  • You’ll raise your prices.
  • You’ll run late.
  • You’ll make a mistake that equates to service failure.

All the sudden, that client you had such a “special bond” with is flagging down your manager, bitching you out, giving you a guilt trip, bad-mouthing you to anyone with ears, banging out some angry diatribe on Yelp or Facebook, or doing all of the above.

Remember when I said I’m the one your clients complain to? I’m also the one who has to mediate these issues, which involves communicating them to the offending employee. I’m telling you this because I love you, and I don’t want you to learn this the way so many of my friends and coworkers have. I’ve seen employees cry when they discover their “friendship” wasn’t reciprocated, and when they learned their efforts to secure the relationship were mocked and criticized in a lengthy complaint to management.

Do you have any idea how humiliating it can be to have your personal life put on blast by a customer to your boss? Can you understand how unacceptable that is in any work environment?

Please, don’t get personal. Client complaints are far easier to take less personally when you don’t give them ammunition to hit you where it hurts. If you need more convincing, here are some quotes directly from client complaints I’ve heard throughout my career:

  • “She spends the entire appointment talking about herself. She won’t shut up. I have to take aspirin before I leave the house because if I don’t, I’ll leave with a migraine from listening to her.”
  • “Can you believe she told me that she had a sexual relationship with another woman in college? I’m open-minded, but that’s way more than I expected to hear about during my pedicure.”
  • “Does he realize I’m not his therapist?”
  • “She called out sick and cancelled my appointment but I saw her at the mall that afternoon with some guy–she didn’t look sick to me.”
  • “She gave me a present for my kid. I know she was trying to be nice or whatever, but it was extremely creepy and made me really uncomfortable.”
  • “Maybe if she spent more time paying attention to what she was doing instead of running her mouth, my hair wouldn’t be the wrong color.”

Are you cringing? I am. Be mindful of your mouth.

5.) They will devalue you as a professional.

The more clients know about you personally, the more familiar you become, and the less respect they will have for you as an educated, skilled professional. That respect is critically important in this industry because how you present and conduct yourself is directly tied to your earning potential–to the client’s perception of your worth.

Whether you like it or not, image and perception matter. Just as employees do not respect salon owners or managers who become overly familiar or fail to present themselves as leaders, clients do not respect professionals who don’t carry themselves appropriately. Just as salon owners and managers who don’t exude confident leadership don’t attract or retain quality employees, professionals who don’t carry themselves appropriately don’t attract or retain quality clients.

6.) The worst offenders are the ones you travel the extra mile for.

Understand this: the clients you do the most for are the ones who will appreciate it the least.

Perfect example: an employee of mine became close with a client. This client begged her to come over to her house to perform services. The employee, hoping to make some extra money, did just that. The client moved further away and stopped paying the employee–you know, because they were friends. The employee lost incentive to continue doing the services, since she was driving further away and not making any money, so she politely told the client she couldn’t do it anymore (at least not for free).

The client reported the employee to the State Board of Cosmetology and to me. She didn’t just try to take this employee’s job, she tried to end her career by having her license revoked.

Some of the most vicious Yelp reviews I’ve ever read were written by clients who became “friends” with their professional.

Clients who pursue the “friendship” are looking for someone to use. Don’t let it be you.

What about those clients who seem determined to become your friend?

You will have clients who practically force themselves on you. They’re the ones who friend you on social media after the first appointment. They’ll push you for personal information to forge a bond. They’ll call you “girlfriend,” tell you they love you, and hug on you every time they walk in the door.

Later down the line, they’ll be the ones who pressure you for discounts. They’ll be the ones who beg you to come to their home to do services. They’ll be the ones who “forget” payment, no-show, arrive late, and expect special treatment. Giving in to their requests and granting favors sets a dangerous precident–one that they’ll be happy to continue to exploit for as long and as far as they can. Believe that.

So, what are the reasons “traditional” professionals advocate for this foolishness?

“You’ll build your book faster.”
“Clients will be more loyal.”
“They’ll tip you more.”
“Clients appreciate your relationship with them.”
“Clients come to us for advice.”

Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.
Amateur, immature bullshit.

Retention and referrals are gained through quality work delivered consistently in a professional environment.

Be courteous. Keep the conversation focused on the service and educating the client. Allow them to relax and enjoy their time without feeling pressured to have a discussion with you. Give them exactly what they ask for and charge appropriately. Ensure they’re comfortable throughout the service and entirely satisfied with their results. Rebook them before they leave.

It’s that easy.

Throughout my career, I’ve never had a problem building or retaining a clientele. Where my more experienced coworkers struggled to keep retention at 45-60%, I held steady in the mid to upper 90%. I didn’t do it by being “friends” with my clients. You would never catch me out at a bar with a customer, or at their baby shower/wedding/birthday party.

I built and maintained my book by keeping my mouth shut and producing great work consistently.
I did it by being reliable, timely, and professional.
I did it by staying educated and not compromising my professional values for anyone.

You can do it too.

Start by charging your worth and not doing more than you’re being paid to do. More on this will come in a later post, but in this business a “few extra minutes” can be the difference between a profit and a loss. You can’t afford to spend valuable service time “building a relationship.”

Your clients are not your friends, they are your customers. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to pay your bills. Respect them and yourself by honoring each of your roles in the client/professional arrangement.

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberinohttps://thisuglybeautybusiness.com
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.


    • Great article! I will say though that I have developed some great friendships (4 to be exact) in my career of 10+ years. At the same time, during services we maintain a professional & consistent service focusing on their needs. Outside of services, we may dine, go to the movies or even attend family events. For new B/C professionals this is a great article!

  1. Wow. I’m a guy LMT, licensed for 21 years, recently opened my own solo place. I am guilty of too much of this, and that explains a LOT. This is spot on, and eye-opening. Tough love.

    • For LMT’s and estheticians, this type of stuff can be a complete business killer. 99% of clients seeking those services aren’t interested in a friendship and the 1% who are will be actively looking to exploit the professional. I’m glad it helped you! 🙂

  2. Thanks again for your candid thoughts on what can be a touchy subject for salon professionals. I’m taking this to heart & will put it to practice. I have told a few clients that want to meet after work that I can not mix business with friendship. They respect that, but I still get the hugs & ‘love you’ at the end of a service. Sometimes it can be hard, but I find if you define that line as soon as you see it may be crossed, the client will respect your professionalism and they will seek services somewhere else (either to friend the next provider to use as you mentioned, or to free up your relationship to become friends).
    Thank you for teaching us how to be better professionals. ❤️

    • Lol, because too many “veteran” professionals think that these outdated strategies work. They don’t. This isn’t the 1960’s when clients came to the salon for gossip and socializing. Our clients work. They’re busy. They have kids and husbands and ten thousand obligations. They’re coming to salons to relax and to have a service performed, not to hear their stylist’s life story or to share personal details with a stranger. I’m so glad you liked it! 🙂

  3. Fantastic! Everyone in the industry should read this I just got a botched haircut yesterday and I know it’s because she literally spent the entire hour talking about her problems. It was my first appointment/time meeting her!!!!!

    • SEE ladies?! Tell me again that customer loyalty is gained through these ridiculous, forced “friendships.” Perfect example.
      I’m so sorry you went through that, Michelina! I’m trying to drop some truth on professionals like the one that botched your hair.

  4. While I view myself as an exception, having worked in the service industry in both retail and food and beverage, I usually overtip because I know how tough it can be. The only free services I ever got where from my sister, because let’s face it, I let her practice on me while she was in school… I deserve some free work 😉 but I really agree with you here. The majority of people are going to use you and try to get discounts. You have to keep that professional line up, even if it’s tough.

  5. Wow! I just found your site! I can’t tell you how incredibly informed and helpful it’s been so far! I have a few days off and will read as many of your articles as possible! It goes to show you no matter how many years in this business you always learn something new. Thanks!

  6. I am a therapist with 14 years experience. I have made friends with one or two clients and fortunately not had any bad experiences. But, this has really made me think differently and my clients will remain just that from now on. Thank you.

  7. This is what I needed to hear about 7 years ago. I am so guilty of every point/topic mentioned. An older co-worker basically told me the same thing. He said (to me): “Paul, they (your clients) are NOT your friends. They are simply acquaintances.” End of story. Thank you, Tina for the tough love refresher lecture. I needed it. My friendliness and “client coddling” cost me a lot of money.

  8. Thanks Tina! This really is the truth about clients. Had two 15 yr. clients that were friends who became to “familiar” with me. They would say personal statements, like “when is your husband going to get a job?” Which I would reply with, “he has a medical problem & can’t return to his construction job”. One of them decided not get treatment from me with no explanation, which was quite unfair. All I could do was to wish her well. It really upset me & I could not help but call her friend, which I know was very unprofessional of me to do but I was puzzled & hurt that her friend wouldn’t tell me why. She claim that I embarrass her in front of a client, which was a bold face lie, but I listened & then asked why she didn’t say, “got a problem, talk to Laurie. She claim that she too have been embarrassed but she said that she was “thick skin” so she didn’t feel she needed to tell me. I hung up the phone & proceeded to write her a thank you letter & wrote that I will not be doing her service anymore. I figure that she wasn’t going to cut her nose to spite her face but I could not continue to give her treatment with that looming over my head! This was a valuable lesson to not become “friends” to your clients at any cost. These two clients felt that they could say anything to me & I never corrected the problem! Lost two clients but gained my integrity back!

  9. I have been a nail tech for 24 years and I learned a LONG Time ago not to be too friendly or “giving” with my clients. I am a professional, and conduct myself as such. The truth is they will use you and abuse you if you let them. They will expect appts. when you don’t have any space, and will expect freebies as well.Do yourself a favor and don’t fell into the trap.

  10. First and foremost, I am not a salon professional, I am a nurse. The reason I am commenting on this is because I am a very loyal client to a very talented salon professional, and I am offended by this article. I cannot believe that you view your clients this way, you categorized all clients into heartless people who want to use you all. Shame on you! I would give the shirt off of my back for my hair stylist and I would pay whatever she asked of me because she is of high value to me and I love and appreciate her more than you must realize that some clients actually do! After all SHE is the only person who can make me feel and look beautiful and brand new as ever. “Clients do not care about you”? Um yes I do care about her and I always will. Such a broad statement to make. “Don’t be friends with your clients, they will use you” HA another broad and extremely ignorant statement! Also, you have not been in ANY industry since the age of 15 years old, especially not an industry requiring you to hold a professional license. I’m glad I already have my hair stylist because I would hate to run into a bitter snobby one like yourself, you were right about one thing though, clients DO pay your bills, and I can assure you any salon professional that spent the entire time talking to me about the hair style they were doing or “educating me” on the hair that’s been on my head for 25 years, would never see me in their chair again. Again shame on you!

    • First and foremost, don’t claim to know anything about my history in this business, or me personally. I don’t have to justify my career to you or anyone else, but yes, I did start working in this business at fifteen years old, as a receptionist/assistant while I completed beauty school. So, you’re wrong.

      I find it interesting that you consider me “bitter and snobby,” when my interest lies in ensuring all clients are treated with courtesy and consideration. I simply believe that professionals should have boundaries, and that clients should respect them. In my extensive experience, I’ve learned that truly special clients (like you claim to be) are the exception, not the rule.

      At no point in the article did I advise anyone to spend “the entire time talking about the hair style they were doing.” I advise them to limit their personal conversations with customers. Salon professionals aren’t at work to make friends; they’re at work to deliver great services that make salon guests feel wonderful about themselves. Sometimes, we get lucky and connect with wonderful customers on a deeper level, but that’s definitely not an advisable practice, because again, those client relationships that are based on true mutual respect are the exception. With all due respect (of which I have little since you’ve chosen to attack me personally), you’re not an industry professional, so you are coming from a position of incredibly limited experience, and certainly aren’t in any position to question my own or challenge my reasoning on this topic.

      • Unfortunately the lady above doesn’t understand what your article is truly about. I did leave a response to her so hopefully she’ll understand more.

        Your advice is spot on!! I’m an esthetician and i’ve been doing eyelash extensions for 8 years. I’m fortunate enough to have extremely loyal clients that have been with me since I first started. To this day I have to watch myself from getting to comfortable because at the end of the day they’re “clients”. I’ve worked out of my house for the past 3 years and my god it’s hard not to just be me in my own home!!! I have to remind myself I’m still at work and to get fully dressed and not wear house shoes when I’m with a client lol. I needed this reminder because I’m moving to LA this month and my clientele is completely changing. I’m starting from scratch so I have to be likeable but more importantly professional and do a fantastic job at these lashes!!! Thank you for the reminder

        • Thanks! I agree. Over the course of my entire career, I have exactly five clients I consider to be exceptional, and only two who I consider to be real friends, and it took them nearly ten years to attain that status. (That doesn’t mean they get free services from me, though, lol.)

    • I think you misunderstood what the article is really about. I’ve been doing eyelash extensions for 8 years and have witnessed every type of client there is. When you are too open personally with your clients, it has the potential to back fire. I worked with a girl for 5 years and although her technique was phenomenal, she wouldn’t shut up about her man issues. This even annoyed me having to hear it everyday. Her clients eventually trickled off and started coming to me because I provided the service with minimal unnecessary talking. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a mute! If my client wants to talk about “themselves” I’m all ears but I never vent to them about anything. My old hair girl used to vent our entire service about her crap of a husband (her words). It was freaking draining. I eventually left because I always left stressed after my appt. Please remember YOU are the exception. Most people aren’t blessed to have clients who truly care such as yourself. I thankfully have clients that are just like you, loyal, understanding, & caring. But only a handful. I pray that other professionals out there will have 1 or 2 of YOU in their career!! I said all of that to say YOU ma’am are who we need more of and this article has nothing to do with you!! Take care!

    • I agree! Im a hairstylist and I have an awesome clientele and we care for one another. Of course I have healthy boundaries, which is important. I’ve had clients for close to 20 to 30 years and they value me and I value them. If I had to say anything it would be to treat people the way you want to be treated

    • I have been in the restaurant industry since I was 14 so…..yeah Tina is correct.
      You are that 1% that actually is a friend. That’s awesome…I personally don’t want to waste my time trying to find that 1% because it will only hurt me in the end……..so yes Tina is correct
      I have people ask me all the time if I can do their hair to practice on. For free! ….yup Tina is correct
      “I want to get together with you to color my hair before you start your salon job so it will be cheaper” actual quote from a “friend” of mine. …..umm looks like Tina is correct
      Hmmmmm…..maybe she actually knows what she is talking about! Wierd…..

  11. Currently a nail tech student im constantly on the search for the do`s and dont`s in the industry and any helpful advice from season veterans I love love love this article it is greatly appreciated. Looking forward to reading all of your articles Thank you

  12. Thank you Tina! I’m a new LNT and am trying to build my business! Very helpful information. Any other articles I can read on building a clientele? I’m renting in a salon/spa. Thank you!!!

  13. Hi Tina,
    I just found you through a business contact and you have undoubtedly blown my socks off! Fantastic article and spot-on! I appreciate your honesty and knowledge. This topic is definitely something we have all encountered within our industry and your “no bullshit” approach is exactly what we need to hear!
    AMAZING! Looking forward to your next article!

  14. Great advice, Tina!

    Recognize that sometimes it’s the client that is talking too much or who is trying to get you to lower your boundaries to get dirt on you they can use later. It’s okay to talk to your clients if you are educating them and using trivial examples from your own life — but even in this, be careful.

    A good book to read on the subject of creating boundaries and good therapeutic frame for yourself and your clients: google (“amazon educated heart nina mcintosh”)

    Here are other resources on (potentially) high-conflict clients/friends and your role/relationship(s) with them.

    They provide some ideas on how to handle particular clients and give more reasons why you shouldn’t “be friends” with your clients, especially those that are always looking for something extra or “love bomb” you to gain your rapport and trust — and then stab you in the back.

    google (“angiemedia borderline distortion campaigns”)
    google (“shari schrieber articles”)
    google (“biffresponse workplace”)
    google (“softpanorama female sociopaths”)
    google (“joe navarro borderline personality disorder how to spot it”)
    google (“joe navarro how to spot a histrionic personality”)
    google (“roy sheppard venus the dark side”)

    Poorly managed “therapeutic frame” and boundaries with your clients can lead from minor issues like lost business to life changing events like the loss of your career (or at its worst land you in prison).

    • Every one of these articles had me RIVETED. I didn’t even consider this as a pathological issue, but it certainly is. I found myself recognizing behaviors I’ve seen in these same clients who seem to intentionally pursue inappropriate friendships with employees. Everyone should read these. All of them. Now.

  15. OMG I’m so glad I read this article. You are spot on! I am a retired manicurist of 34 years full time. I was successful and had many clients over the years. But I did allow my clients to be personal and talk all they want about themselves. Many times I felt like a giant ear!I tried to be nurturing and understanding most of the time. There were times I was guilty of talking too much too, but I kept that at a minimum due to feeling guilty and unprofessional after I would talk too much. I didn’t get taken advantage of money wise, but man,did they push me over the years to do things I didn’t want to , most especially to bend my schedule for them. I would do favors, fix broken nails for free, tolerate tardiness, go to their houses sometimes, work on my days off, etc. I could go on and on.
    I can really relate to the part of your article about clients that will tell you that they love you. Many did, or they would want to hug me and say that I was their best friend in all the world. Sometimes I would get so embarrassed. These were phony displays put on many times in the salon in front of my co-workers and their clients and I would feel so awkward and embarrassed and I didn’t know how to put a stop to it.
    When I retired and left the business , I expected that I would remain friends with 5 ladies that I personally liked a lot. They had always been real nice, fun, interesting and just seemed to me like really wonderful people. I had also done their nails for many, many years.I counted myself lucky to have 5 friends from all those years of work. Imagine my hurt to find out that 4 of them wrote me off immediately. The 5th lady had lunch with me but I could feel her lack of interest and it was a chore for her to endure it. She even received a transparently arranged phone call from a friend of hers to end the lunch early. I was angry and hurt. I did become a little bitter when I realized that once there is nothing in it for them to spend time with you, then they do not want to. All that time I thought that they really liked me, but actually they just wanted their nails done and to talk about themselves.
    My biggest mistake and regret was that I didn’t take the time over the years to develop true friendships based on equal footing, outside the scope of my business. So here I am , 55 years old, retired, no friends. Don’t rely on clients for anything. Make the time to build friendships outside and separate from your work, cause when you no longer work, you may want some friends to have lunch with.

  16. Great article!! I have the opposite problem where my service provider wants me to them favors, but still charges me full price. I dread having “the talk” and this puts me in an uncomfortable position.

  17. Ive been a therapist for many years and have made a couple of real friends throughout this time. However I couldn’t agree more on a lot of your points. One of my clients had a weight issue, as did I. We got chatting about it and it was decided we would join a slimming class together. She couldn’t make the first couple (where we were supposed to join up) and in the end went somewhere nearer her home. She half heartedly asked me if I wanted to go to this place instead. I couldn’t as it wasn’t a good day. Anyway, Ive since lost a lot of weight, without joining a club and now we rarely speak and she has stopped returning my messages or coming into the salon. I don’t know what it’s all about ( but I can guess) but I wish I hadn’t agreed to go with her as it seems to be the root of the issue. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt and we have to learn from our mistakes. I never gave her discounts and have never met her outside of work. I just think this personal issue was perhaps one step too far and would’ve meant we would’ve been to familiar with each other. Lesson learnt.

    • I’m sorry, Lea. Sometimes, petty jealousies and insecurities cause resentment, but there’s typically not much we can do about that. I had the same problem with a client when I was pregnant with my second child. She learned I was pregnant when it became obvious (it wasn’t something I announced to anyone), and remarked that she was pregnant too. She ended up gaining a lot of weight during her pregnancy and would make snide remarks about how I needed to eat more. After we had our kids, I lost the weight very quickly. She didn’t. At that point, she was outright hostile about it, asking me if I starve myself, making jokes about how I was “probably anorexic or something,” and once implied that I was bulimic when I went to clean my implements and wash my hands after her pedicure. Needless to say, she lost her position on my book permanently. I’m not going to allow anyone to make me feel bad because they resent something about me. That client did you a favor.

  18. Hi Tina. I just came across this article and found it very thought provoking, thank you for posting it. It brought up a few questions for me. Like you, I also started working in this industry at 15 years old. For 9 years I worked in New York as a full time employee in 2 salons (about 4 1/2 years in each) and as an independent bridal stylist contracting with 2-4 salons at a time. As I’ve seen you suggest in posts like How to Build a Clientele, Three Big Lies Holding Back Your Success I also participated in photo shoots, fashion shows and submitted my work to trade magazines to get my name out there and impress the people sitting in my chair.

    Eight years ago I moved to Denver, Colorado and opened a private studio salon. In salon I work mostly by myself but I often bring in independent contractors for wedding work and salon ‘parties’ i.e. tutorials, blowout events etc. For these past 8 years I have maintained around an 85% retention rate with a solid percentage of clients who have been with me since opening. They have stayed through my wedding, honeymoon, maternity leave, returning from maternity leave with limited hours, price raises and vacations. They never (to the most reasonable extent) cancel, show up late, blow off appointments or behave in any other disrespectful manor towards me, the salon or any of the other professionals I bring in. I believe they stay because I do so much of what your suggest in your posts. I offer hours that work for them, I always dress and behave professionally, I take product, technique and business classes and implement what I’ve learned in the salon. I design new services and always try to come up with ways to keep clients interested and excited. I maintain professional integrity. The reason your post is so thought provoking for me is that I also have personal relationships with a number of these clients. I have seen them go through marriages, divorces, illness, births and deaths. I have a client now who is losing her young son to cancer. My family walks her dog to take that off her plate. That is just one example of the many relationships I have with my clients outside of the salon. In the salon I share personal experiences, blogs I read, podcasts I listen to, books and funny stories with clients who are going through a hard time and need inspiration or a little laughter. They share with me. The human element is very much a part of my job every day and I believe it has served me professionally and personally.

    BUT, I am about to open a 4 chair salon and the truth is I actually agree with your position in this post and your professional approach to our business. Your blog has inspired so much of my business plan. So, here are my questions (I know, finally…this ended up much longer than I intended) – How do I continue to honor the business and relationships I’ve built over the last 8 years through this growth and transition? What can I do to set professional examples for employees without seeming detached from my dear clients? I understand that my situation can certainly be used as yet another example of why not to develop personal relationships with clients but I hope you might have more feedback than that for me. I also hope that the sheer length of this post won’t deter you from reading it; I value your insight and would love to hear your thoughts.

    • LOL! I couldn’t help but laugh when you said “this ended up much longer than I intended.” (I think that every time I finish writing a post and look at my word count.)

      I don’t think your situation can be used as an example in that context since your clients are not abusing the friendship. You’ve likely done a very good job of setting boundaries with them and the friendships that resulted evolved naturally, independent of that professional relationship.

      When it comes to setting examples for your future employees, I think your behavior thus far will set the tone for them as well. You clearly have good judgment when it comes to the evolution of those personal relationships with clients, otherwise your experience wouldn’t have been as positive as it is. I’m sure you plan to provide thorough training and continuing education to your professionals, so I’d recommend setting behavioral guidelines that prohibit overly familiar behaviors and clarifying that any inconsistencies they notice between what you expect of them and how you behave yourself represent slim exceptions. Those friendships weren’t forced and they didn’t compromise your position as their professional. Those relationships are the result of nearly a decade of routine interaction based in mutual respect and understanding. For any of them to attempt to force those kinds of relationships wouldn’t be appropriate or professional.

      In my experience, most professionals–especially new ones–don’t know better and try way too hard to forge those bonds with customers. It comes off fake, clumsy, and awkward. Until they’re secure in their position as a professional and fully capable of drawing and maintaining those boundaries, they need to not.

      Good luck! 😀

  19. This was like a cold splash of water to the face. And I definitely needed it! After being birned recently by a client that I thought was a friend…..I’ll freely admit I may have held people in higher regard than they held me. So what is your stance on having clients on your social media pages?

  20. Hi Tina. I am just starting in the industry. I’ve completed my certification last year and have since only started with small steps towards going into the industry full time (Nail tech). Long story short I want to do more training, develop some business skills before I take the plunge. This is a huge eye opener as I can definitely see myself falling into the friend – client – trouble trap. Thank you for this, It’s been a pleasure to read your material.

    • You’re welcome! (Also, how awesome is it that your business is called Varnished Nails and mine is called Unvarnished Hand & Foot Company? Lol. Great minds think alike!)

  21. Great article! What would be your advice if this has been the culture of your establishment for many years? How can you turn that around?

    • Fire everyone. Burn the salon down. Salt the ashes. Rebuild. Restaff. Never speak of the past ever again.

      Lol, just kidding. When it comes to turning around employee behavior, that’s generally pretty easy. Establish new rules, explain your reasoning to the professionals (specifically the many ways in which these friendships with clients aren’t advisable), and make sure they understand that you won’t tolerate those inappropriate relationships anymore. With diligent management, they’ll correct the behavior shortly.

      With clients it’s a little trickier. Some of them will pick up on and emulate the behaviors of the professionals, but a newsletter from management wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’d angle it to their interests by saying that you’ve been noticing some behaviors you don’t approve of, so some changes are being made with regards to your approach to customer service. I’d say something like, “Salons can be very social environments. Sometimes forget we’re at work and that it isn’t appropriate for professionals to be overly familiar with customers. Effective immediately, we will be restructuring our policies and practices, cultivating an environment where you can relax and enjoy the expertise of our professionals without feeling pressured to converse.”

      Make the changes focused on improving the client experience. The majority of them will likely be grateful for the changes, the few who truly value the relationships they’ve formed with you and your employees will be understanding of them, and the ones who are trying to leverage those friendships for their own gain will most likely be the only ones complaining. (Those clients are also the ones who probably drive your employees insane with their constant drama and neediness. You know the ones I’m talking about–the ones who just drain the life out of you every appointment.) Those people will quickly identify themselves as the ones who don’t belong in your business, making it easier to break from them once and for all, lol.

  22. Love your article. It is all very true. But what do you do when you have friends who want to become clients? Like women from my kids school, friends I’ve made in other circles or friends who’ve had another hair stylist for a while and now want to come to me? We’ve already established a more intimate relationship and now they come to me as a professional.

    • It’s fine so long as they understand that they’re not entitled to special treatment just because you’re friends. I’ve had several of my friends and family members ask to make appointments or become regulars, and my response is, “My rates are what they are. My cancellation policy is what it is. You violate the terms of my business and I will treat you the same way I treat clients who do so. Fair warning–you aren’t going to get special treatment. I will treat you the exact same way I treat my customers, you’ll get the same level of service and consideration, but I expect the same in return.” Too often, friends and family think they’re entitled to discounts or other perks. I’m in the business of making money, not doing favors, lol. Be very clear about it, and if they try to overstep, set them right.

  23. Wow !! Great article !
    I have been a stylist for 37 years and so totally agree with everything in your article…
    I have recently lost a long time client by telling her more about my personal life then I should have…
    I regret my words and miss my client very much.
    However I learned a valuable lesson and will never make that mistake again.
    I couldn’t agree with you more !

  24. And yet we are now assumed by some states -and I am sure that more will jump on the trend- to be so intimate with our clients that we should be monitoring them for signs of domestic violence and required to take training to maintain our licenses. I, for one, appreciate the movement away from the stereotype that we are therapists and friends but can’t reconcile that with this assumption that I have a responsibility to influence a client’s personal life.

    • I completely agree. If you think that’s bad, you should read this. Now, we cannot fire or “retaliate” against workers who may be victims of domestic violence. While I agree that the law was made with good intentions, they are putting the onus on the wrong party here.

  25. Thankyou for this! I’m in a transitional state of mind with my business and I want to streamline things going forward if I’m to do this for the long haul. I feel a little more educated just after reading this post. 😉 xxxx

  26. This article is well written and spot-on.
    We walk a tightrope between being welcoming, caring and friendly ; and professional, consistent and having excellent boundaries.
    I have been burned a few times.
    That being said, I have also formed several amazing relationships with different people over the decades.
    Develop strong boundaries and trust your gut.

  27. I’ve been doing hair for 25 yrs, I have made great friendships with clients. I also know who will be a good person and which ones I need to just be a hairstylist. I also work in a small shop in a smaller town, I’m sure that makes a difference. Remember people will always treat you the way you allow them too.

  28. I am stunned. You are spot on. Thanks, it’s not too late for me to turn this around. I’ve got a great book, did all the promo things you mentioned, but I realize now I’ve been too informal with my clients. You’re right, my services are great and worth what I charge. Wish I had read this great advise before opening my business 4 years ago, but here’s to new beginnings 🙂

    • It can be hard, because we’re often told from the day we start school that we have to form “connections” with clients, let them confide in us, and allow or participate in a ton of really unprofessional behaviors that aren’t necessary or appropriate in modern workplaces. Younger GenX clients and Millennials aren’t like Boomers, so we really have to be mindful of the attitudes and worldviews of our clients as we gradually shift from serving one generation to the other. Boomers tended to appreciate long appointments, personal conversations, and those close relationships with us, whereas GenX and Millennials really tend not to.

  29. I absolutely love this blog. I have learned so much in the few short months since I discovered you. I recently purchased your first book, along with a few other things from your shop, and I am so excited to dive in further!! My question is on how to handle clients who were your friends prior to becoming a professional? I haven’t had any bad experiences yet, but I always want to prepare for the worst.

    • Thanks so much! I know it seems like I’ve been dormant the last few months, but I’ve been anything but. I’m about to unleash every overdue podcast episode, a new post, and a newsletter next week. I’ve also published five VIP articles, with two more (and a VIP newsletter) also being published next week. As if that weren’t enough, I launched my first online class and will be uploading the second part of the course–again, next week, lol. So there’s a ton of stuff going on and much more to come now that I’m able to focus on the site full-time.

      As for clients who were your friends before you became a professional, I recommend having preemptive discussions. Solve the problem before it becomes one. These conversations tend to be extremely easy, since you already have established relationships with the people you’ll be having them with. Just let them know, “Now that I’m licensed, I want to make it clear that I’m in this to get paid. Don’t expect favors. This is my job; not a hobby.” Any time my friends would ask me about their hair or nails outside of the salon, I’d stare at them and say, “Are you seriously going to try and make me work right now? Make an appointment. Tina the Cosmetologist isn’t here right now.”

      You can deliver that message in whatever tone you consider appropriate or comfortable. I’m the kind of person who does a lot of deadpan, semi-serious joking, so my friends know that even though my tone may be sarcastic, I mean every word of what I’m saying–but not in a cruel way. As long as they understand what you’re telling them, you can say it however you want, but it’s usually best to lay it out in the open in advance, rather than when they ask you for free services or infringe on your personal time with work-related stuff.

      • Good stuffbeen in business 30 years people say oh no I only have a hundred dollars when it’s 125.00 I say it’s okay but then I realize these people have quite a bit of money then I or if I have a price raise they complain I have one lady who pre writes checks for the privrvitvwas 7 years ago I don’t know what to do it’s makes me feel cheated but also mad st myself for not being able to speak up what’s wrong with me do I have low self esteem

        • I wouldn’t call it “low self-esteem.” People in our industry tend to be givers. We are drawn to service because we love to serve others, and sometimes, asserting ourselves can feel counter to that. It isn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that it can feel that way, lol.

  30. Hi Tina,
    Thanks for your article about maintaining a professional relationship with clients. I’m an esthetician, and I’ve been operating a salon from my home for 11 years. I’ve learned that being friendly with clients is fundamental to the success of my business but, generally speaking, treating clients as friends is a mistake. Not only do you find that people will take advantage of you, but it also hurts when your “friend” suddenly stops seeking your services. In 99% of cases you did nothing wrong: It’s simply that your client’s priorities changed, and they’re no longer budgeting for the service you provide. We mustn’t forget that our clients are paying to spend time with us and, as such, we are no different (to most of them) than a friendly shop assistant or bank teller. Like you, I’ve seen estheticians, hairdressers and other service providers go on ad nauseum about themselves, and I agree it’s inappropriate. It’s also inappropriate to allow a client to confide too much. My experience is that if I allow a client to tell me their secrets about their spouse, their child, or something foolish they did, for example, I probably won’t see them again. I can only guess that in the cold light of the next day they’re embarrassed about what they revealed; consequently, they don’t want to face me again. I would tell a newbie service provider to remind herself that she isn’t a counsellor; so, when a client starts treating her like one she ought to tactfully steer the conversation in a new direction. I’ll end by admitting to having made friends through my salon, including two I particularly cherish and see socially. That said, I agree with your article, because in the early years of my salon I made many “friends” who turned out not to be friends at all. It hurt in a variety of ways, both personally and professionally. My policy now is always to be friendly but not to make friends. It works well for everyone. My clients receive the quality care for which they’re paying, and I am treated with respect and courtesy. Thanks, again, for your article, Tina. And for your website! It’s really professional and engaging. You’re doing a stellar job of bringing together a strong community. All the best!

  31. I completely agree with this article and the ones who are friends or family are the ones who you go an extra mile for and or don’t tip and then complain and are the ones who act the least happy even though they like it they always want more. Yeah, I had a friend say can you add more brown roots when literally she was just being extra. Me asking her for 25 dollars for my time she flipped out and brought up friendship like yes you are a friend but you are also my client and this is my business. Mind you, I already give her a discount on the prices and include a hair cut and conditioner as well as toner which I don’t up sale. Literally I stood up for myself and I have learned to be firm and let them know this is my business even though I do it part time its still another job. I could go on and on but Thanks for the article its really 100% true.

  32. Thank you for the article and your candor!! I have been in the industry for many years and have a very full clientele! I REALLY struggle with charging for every service I provide. I often “throw in” extras here and there, that I know add up! I also do not charge ANY of my immediate family members! I have so much anxiety over implementing change that will involve price increases as well as charging my family members. I have no one to blame but myself!! I give an obscene amount of discounts. With that being said, I know I really need to because I’m feeling it financially as well as burnout!! Can you advise?

    • Stop the discounts and make them choose. Either they support you and your business or they’re only interested in taking advantage of you. If it’s the latter, you know where they stand and shouldn’t feel guilty for cutting them loose. I highly suspect that most of them will stick with you, though, especially if they didn’t ask for the discounts and special treatment to begin with. 🙂

  33. This could be the reason some customers who brag about the hair compliments they get all the time but never refer??? YIKES!
    For example: Jane loves our sessions as is but possibly fears her coworkers, neighbors, in-laws, etc. will build the same “close” relationship I’ve established with her. I have many of Jane’s secrets. 😉
    Will switching my behavior work with existing customers?

    • Whether or not it will work depends on how you approach it. Some choose to gradually distance themselves, introducing boundaries in subtle ways (for instance, redirecting the conversation when it strays off-course). Others are more intentional. They establish the boundaries all at once and inform the clients. (Most professionals I’ve talked to say that beginning that conversation with an apology for getting too personal and acknowledging that things will have to change from that point forward works best.) No matter how you do it, make sure they understand that it’s not their fault, but that the shift isn’t negotiable. You can stay cordial and friendly while also maintaining a professional distance. There’s no reason for those relationships to suffer, but any client who insists on treating you like their therapist, sounding board, BFF, or gossip source needs to understand that their expectations of you are unreasonable. You aren’t being paid to be any of those things for them. If you aren’t comfortable serving in that capacity or want to reclaim your privacy, they need to respect that.

  34. What about hairdressers who don’t care about their clients? I thought I had a good relationship with my hairdresser. I was almost never late, called when I was 5 minutes late, replied to all the confirmation texts about upcoming appointments, tipped well, gave her a bonus for Christmas and never asked for more time or any of the favors listed in the article. But when I was sick and had to cancel the day before my appointment she said I would simply have to wait 6 weeks until my next scheduled appt. This was inconvenient, since the time between my appointments had already run long, but I said nothing. When the day of my appointment finally came, she cancelled with only a couple of hours notice because SHE was sick. I commented that this was inconvenient, but accepted a reschedule date. She promptly dumped me as a client because I was not ‘understanding’ of her illness. What about HER understanding of MY illness? Was she willing to try to reschedule me? Nope. I simply had to wait 6 weeks, no other options offered. She is a SERVICE PROVIDER. Yet she acted like she was doing me the ultimate favor by accepting me as a client. No thanks.

    • I highly doubt your stylist arbitrarily decided to make you wait 6 weeks. (It’s possible, but extremely unlikely.) It sounds as if she’s extremely booked during her work hours and simply didn’t have the availability to schedule you before then. Then, she fell ill.

      It also sounds like you had an expectation to be given earlier accommodation when you were sick and then again when she was sick, which wasn’t possible. (I’m not sure if this was the case or not, but our jobs are physically strenuous and a very busy professional who serves clients every working hour is not going to be staying late or coming in on weekends. Doing so is extremely inadvisable, unless you want chronic back, neck, shoulder, and knee problems before your 40th birthday.)

      Stylists who are in extremely high demand, unfortunately, have very little schedule flexibility and have to be defensive of their off-time. You should have been scheduled with another available professional during her illness, but if she’s working solo (or if you refuse to be placed with another stylist), that’s not possible. It’s important for clients of fully booked professionals to understand that any missed appointments are unlikely to be made up by that specific professional. “Fitting in” a client who missed their appointment when you’re booked to or beyond capacity isn’t possible since every working hour is booked. Trying to serve every client you missed during an illness also isn’t possible because doing so would mean working 12+ hour shifts for weeks to make up for the absence.

      It’s also important for clients of self-employed professionals to understand that they have no support or backup, so when you (or they) are sick, they lose money that they have no way of recouping, and they have nobody to help them untangle the trainwreck the schedule becomes while they’re gone.


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